Ryan Chancellor was at the grocery store Monday, and someone walked up to him to talk about the football team.
It was that way all season for the Oak Park-River Forest senior.
“That never used to happen to me,” he said. “There’s been a big change around here. If I’m wearing a team T-shirt, people want to know how things are going.
“People notice us now.”
Winning will do that.
Although the Huskies ended their year Saturday with a 34-21 loss to Maine South in the second of the Class 8A playoffs, Oak Park-River Forest (9-2) enjoyed its most successful season since going 9-2 in 1992. The Huskies, which finished 7-4 last year, won a game in the playoffs for a second consecutive season.
“It’s been awesome to be a part of,” said Chancellor, who caught a 37-yard touchdown early in the fourth quarter. “We expected more, but I think we can build off of this. We have a foundation for the future.”
Chancellor said coach John Hoerster can be thanked for that.
After 10 seasons as an assistant at Mount Carmel, Hoerster took the job at Oak Park-River Forest in 2011. His first objective was to generate interest in the program, both in the school and in the community.
“We wanted to create something everybody wanted to be part of,” said Hoerster, who lives in Oak Park.
Hoerster said nearly double the number of players suited up for the freshman team this season than in 2012. He also noticed the community was more engaged with the Huskies than when he first started.
“You want people excited,” he said. “In some ways, it’s brand recognition. The more people you involved, the more people talk.
“For the (students), it’s positive peer pressure.”
On Saturday, the Huskies were undone by two drives, one that ended the first half and the other that started the third quarter. Maine South scored on both and led 27-7 with 5 minutes, 56 seconds left in the third.
The Huskies got within two possessions on senior Simmie Cobbs’ 37-yard TD reception from junior Lloyd Yates, but Oak Park-River never drew closer than 13 the rest of the way.
Chancellor said the Huskies were disappointed with the defeat, but he’s encouraged by what the future holds.
“We’ve gotten the name out there and we’ve created a fan base,” he said. “Kids now are looking up to us and wanting to be part of the team someday.
“It’s been awesome to experience.”